Dandruff is a common chronic scalp condition marked by flaking of the skin on your scalp. It isn’t contagious or serious, but it can difficult to treat.
Mild cases of dandruff may need nothing more than daily shampooing with a gentle cleanser. More stubborn cases often respond to medicated shampoos.
In addition to regular shampooing, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing dandruff:
• Learn to manage stress: Stress affects your overall health, and can help trigger dandruff or worsen existing symptoms.
• Get a little sun: Sunlight may be good for dandruff. But because exposure to ultraviolet light damages your skin and increases your risk of skin cancer, don’t sunbathe. Instead, just spend a little time outdoors. And be sure to wear sunscreen on your face and body.
• Try some alternatives: Small studies have found that tea tree oil can reduce dandruff, but more study is needed. Tea tree oil, which comes from the leaves of the Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), has been used for centuries as an antiseptic, antibiotic and antifungal agent. It’s now included in a number of shampoos found in natural foods stores.
The oil may cause allergic reactions in some people. If you develop an allergic reaction — rash, hives or difficulty breathing — seek medical attention.
• Use a medicated shampoo: Dandruff shampoos aren’t all alike, and you may need to experiment until you find one that works for you. Some need to be left on for a few minutes, while others should be immediately rinsed off. If you develop itching, stinging, redness or burning from any product, stop using it.
Dandruff shampoos are classified according to the medication they contain:
Pyrithione zinc can reduce the fungus on your scalp that can cause dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.
Coal tar, a byproduct of the coal manufacturing process, helps conditions such as dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis. It slows how quickly skin cells on your scalp die and flake off. If you have light-colored hair, this type of shampoo may cause discoloration.
Salicylic acid helps eliminate scale, but may leave your scalp dry, leading to more flaking. Using a conditioner after shampooing can help.
Selenium sulfide slows your skin cells from dying and may also reduce malassezia, a type of fungus. Because they can discolor blond, gray or chemically colored hair, be sure to use them only as directed, and rinse well after shampooing.
Ketoconazole is a broad-spectrum antifungal agent that may work when other shampoos fail. It’s available over-the-counter as well as by prescription.
Try using one of these shampoos daily until your dandruff is controlled; then cut back to two or three times a week. If one type of shampoo works for a time and then seems to lose its effectiveness, try alternating between two types.
If you’ve shampooed faithfully for several weeks and there’s still dandruff on your shoulders, talk to your doctor. You may need a prescription-strength shampoo or treatment with a steroid lotion.
— Mayo Clinic News Network